Summer school program on North Korean culture to start in May 2022

(Courtesy of Thomas Klassen)

A new summer school program studying North Korean culture is in production and is set to be hosted at York. The summer program has been called the “first-of-its-kind” and allows students to study North Korean arts, literature, and propaganda. 

The program is set to start in May 2022 and will run for two weeks, coordinated by Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) Professor Thomas Klassen. 

The course has no student fees in order for it to be as accessible to as many interested people as possible. All that is necessary for the application process that can be found here. The funding from this summer school comes from the Korean Office for Research and Education (KORE) at York, which is funded by the Academy of Korean Studies. Additional funding is provided by LA&PS.

“There are courses and programs on North Korea that examine politics, history, and security studies. But far fewer opportunities to learn about art, music, and literature in North Korea,” Klassen says about his inspiration behind coordinating this unique course. 

The summer school will be taught by two experts on North Korean culture: George Washington University Professor Immanuel Kim and Nicholas Bonner, founder of Koryo Studio. “The two instructors will share their knowledge of how North Korea developed its own culture and the major features,” Klassen says. 

This course holds a lot of importance due to its uniqueness in subject matter. “Not many academic institutions in the humanities and social sciences have taken North Korea seriously other than international affairs, economics, or political science departments. The fact that so many students have registered also indicates the general public’s desire to know more about North Korea,” Kim says, regarding the importance for a course such as this. 

The uniqueness of the summer school course is shown through its applicants from around the world who agree and echo the statements from both Klassen and Kim. When asked why they were interested in such a course, the responses definitely show the like-mindedness of everyone involved. 

Boyuan Bridge, a masters of fine art graduate student in film production who applied to the program, says, “I am interested in the history and art of film and cultural production in contemporary North Korea, and to gain a further understanding on how the universal theme of individual identity and the public-private persona expands into North Korean film, literature, and visual art.”

His statement is echoed from another one of the applicants to the program, Jacob Lundquist a Master’s student at York who applied to the summer program, “People who take seriously fiction and art from the north see it not as a way of ‘taking down that evil regime’ or some other nonsense, but of really understanding the inner workings of their society in ways that English studies attempts to do with our own.”

This course serves as a way of connecting to a country that has been disconnected from the rest of the world for so long, pushing the importance of understanding all aspects of a country’s culture to properly understand how it functions. A course such as this holds a lot of importance because of its uniqueness and the lack of information that the rest of the world has on North Korean life and culture.

Yilin Guo, a master of arts student echoes this stating, “My research focuses on China-North Korea relations, so I think this summer program will be helpful to my research paper. North Korea is a rare topic in North America. I think this summer course can provide a different view of North Korea for me.”

The reasons stated by the applicants as to why they wanted to apply to this course echoes the thoughts of Klassen on what inspired him to create a course like this, where he further states, “We know so little about life in North Korea. What do ordinary people read, watch, and listen to?”

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By Holly Smith


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